This was not a great week for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. In the middle of trying to please merchants, customers and medical experts on Covid reopenings, the ever-problematic rail transit project hit him, his planners and the news media.
First came the HART board’s initial effort to dump project director Andy Robbins at the end of this year when his current contract is up. Caldwell seems to have calmed just enough board members to redirect that first vote so that HART is now saying “let’s just wait and see what January brings.”
On the media side, Civil Beat reporter Marcel Honore ran all over his competitor on the story, Dan Nakaso of the Star-Advertiser, and discovered that the Dillingham Boulevard utilities relocation part of the train viaduct is going to be so overwhelming that it could run the budget additional millions in the red and delay finishing the track and the stations through town for God know how many years, but likely something like 2025.
Somebody didn’t do his/her homework on building through town and condemning property, plus moving all those electrical, gas and water lines on Dillingham. A good-sense planner would have ended rail just before Chinatown, at Iwilei, and linked it their to easy bus routes to Ala Moana Center and the UH-Manoa. But that would not have pleased developers at Kakaako and around the Center.
And then the kicker on Friday. Those Public-Private-Partnership bids came in so astoundingly high that Caldwell had little choice but to pull out of that share-the-cost idea and go back to the original drawing board in which it’s all a City-State-Federal funded project, and guess where the money comes from — federal income tax, State excise & income tax, and Honolulu property tax. From our pockets.
The week was not without bad news on the State side as well. That Aloha Stadium sports-and-recreation-and-retail project has fallen way behind in the planning and will probably cost at least $20 million more than first estimated.
Are you surprised? Of course not. It’s local government at work. And should Caldwell become governor in 2022, he’d be moving from a way-over-budget train project to a way-over-budget stadium project. Maybe we should legalize lotteries here — no, not for the income but so we can have some fun betting on when rail and the stadium will be finished and what their final costs will be.
Sometimes I wish we had those city and state governments where the honchos simply pocket large sums of budgeted money for government projects. They hide the “skim” in the original cost estimate. Then they bring the project in “on budget and on time.” And go home quite wealthy and the taxpayers are happy.